Saturday, August 31, 2013

Auburn Community Mosaic Mural

Last spring, I saw a call for art that involved facilitation of an art project for the Auburn Parks & Rec's new "ArtRageous Art Zone."  It hasn't been easy to find opportunities to do more community mosaic since the Artesian Well project, so I submitted a proposal to lead a mural-making project.  The finished product would be donated to a non-profit organization chosen by the City of Auburn.

I received notice that I was approved to lead the project, but I found it difficult to get more information.  Apparently, the ArtRageous Art Zone is a new program, and it was yet to be seen who would come to the planned events.  On various dates throughout summer, entertainment and interactive art projects would be available in Les Gove Park, open to anyone who wanted to participate.  By July, a location for the mural had not been identified for certain, though there is a blank wall on one of the buildings in the park, perfect for mounting the mural, so that was being considered.

My design, therefore, was a simple landscape featuring Mt. Rainier (as seen from Auburn) and some NorthWest-looking plants.  Without knowing how many participants would come or what age range they would be, I decided to try to make it as easy as possible, though it meant a lot more work on my part.  I outlined the mountain and clouds with mirror, and made outlines representing the low mountains at the base of Mt. Rainier.  Then I completed the ferns, leaves and flowers myself, using the boldest shapes I could manage.  After all, the stipend for this project was quite small, and I had a commission with a steep deadline to complete at the same time.  Here is how the mural looked before I took it to Auburn:
3' x 5' mural, prepped and ready for kids to fill in the empty areas.
Sorted scrap stained glass was set out in bins - only 4 colors to keep it very simple.  Two Seattle mosaic artists, Kathryn Henne and Christina Vaule, came to volunteer, and it would have been sheer chaos without them.  As it turned out, the live band that played on a nearby stage was the Roly Poly Guacamoles and most of the kids in the park that day were preschoolers.  We did have a few older kids, but most of the work was done by very little hands who often had a very hard time even understanding that certain colors needed to go in certain areas, let alone how to place pieces so that they fit together nicely.  Thinset was dripping and glopping everywhere, lots of areas had pieces of glass overlapping or pressed together without space for grout, and at least one kid wanted to stack the glass, gluing pieces one on top of another.  It was all I could do to keep up with thinset mixing and going around adjusting and cleaning up areas after they were abandoned by each child.  Most of the kids were from daycare groups, so adults were not able to help them out - which I did not anticipate!  I was very impressed and utterly grateful that Kathryn and Christina were awesome with the kids, showing them how to dab the right amount of thinset onto a piece and strategizing where each piece should go.
Here, two older girls are working independently while Christina gets 3 newcomers set up.

This mom was awesome, making sure her kids followed directions.  
None of us took time to stop and take photos during the busiest part of the day, but we often had kids wrapped all the way around the table, and it was very hard to keep up with all of them.  The lesson I learned is that, in future, I will not be so ambitious.  While I really wanted this project to be a mural, it was mainly out of self-interest.  It will make a nice addition to my portfolio, showing how community mosaic can bring people together and contribute to the beautification of cities within a limited budget.  So, I'm glad I did it, but I now know to only do these large projects in a more controlled environment.  There should be a minimum age or required adult supervision, and possibly advanced sign-up or limited space at the table.  

Earlier in the summer, I did two other group projects.  One was with a church group of 60 participants and I had no volunteers.  But there were parents and grandparents, and the project was a very simple, small mosaic on wood using water-based glue.  Another was similar, but at 4H camp with kids in 3rd grade and up.  Both of these were very successful, low stress, fun for participants, and everyone got to take their project home.  If I had it to do over, I would have done that for the ArtRageous Art Zone.

However, with the help of family, the mural was finished at home over the past couple of weeks.  (I needed unskilled labor so that it would all blend together.)  Today I grouted, and I think it's a very cute mosaic project that, hopefully, will be mounted in Les Gove Park in Auburn, WA sometime this month.  The children who helped create it will be able to see it every time they visit the playground, and point to the area they worked on.  Who knows, maybe they will be able to show it to their own kids someday.